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A Witch-burning in Vienna: Releasing Frankenstein's Monster

Elsa is a 70-year-old woman who has been raising the children of her dear departed daughter, Margaret. Margaret's former husband has left. Unfortunately, only one of Elsa's grandchildren reaches teen age: a girl with epilepsy. Elsa is accused of witchcraft by her former son-in-law because he believes his daughter has been possessed. A famous exorcist expels 12,652 demons from the teenager's body. Under torture, Elsa finally admits her guilt, but the confession is such BS that the Mayor of Vienna appeals to the Emperor. Appeal denied. Elsa is dragged to a field, strangled and burned at the stake. All that is left of Elsa in the modern day is her story, some regret from the local citizens who had nothing to do with this injustice, and a street named in her remembrance. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
And I thought I was having trouble with my son-in-laws. What is amazing is that this accusation of witchcraft wasn't thrown around more often. During the Middle Ages accusations like this would occur in waves, like hysteria, and before you knew it, 60 people would be fighting for their lives. Elsa probably would have been OK if she could have worked something out with her former son-in-law, but when the exorcist came into the picture, Elsa's fate was sealed. Once the authorities get involved you can expect the result to be swift and ugly. That is why it is best to keep disagreements, especially family disagreements, private if at all possible. But we seem unable to work these things out amongst ourselves, expecting the government to mediate our arguments. We forget that the government is like Frankenstein's monster. Once we let it loose on the townspeople it soon returns and it will be after us next.

Trial by Combat is Dead but the Idea is Not

A trial by combat is a court-sanctioned duel to find out who is right. The idea is that if God is on your side, He'll make sure you win. It's not exactly "might is right," but it's close. This year the final verifiable trial by combat is carried out between Teig and Conor, each accusing the other of treason. Apparently Teig is right because Conor is now dead. There will be a few more trials that almost end in combat, but disaster will be averted either by direct intervention by the King or the other guy won't show up for the duel. In 2002, the 60-year-old Leon Humphreys will demand a trial by combat to the death between himself and the clerk at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to settle a traffic fine. The court will decline to name a champion to represent the government agency. [4] [5] [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Although there is no more trial by combat, we retain the idea in popular culture. Whenever we read a story or watch a movie where the hero walks through a hail of bullets unharmed while his opponents drop like flies, our willingness to believe that this makes any sense whatsoever is all the proof we need that we still believe that God or the Great Pumpkin protects the good and the right from harm. Some have said that moral courage is to numbers in battle like three to one. In other words, God is on the side of the one who is right. Is this true? Abraham Lincoln once said...
...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side. [7]

Wallenstein and the Marshall Plan

One of the great generals of the 30 Years' War is born this year. In fact Albrecht von Wallenstein will be a little too great and make the Holy Roman Emperor nervous. Wallenstein will offer a novel way of funding wars. Prior to this time, wars were funded by the losers in the form of plunder and taxes on the losers. This policy tends to encourage wars. Wallenstein will suggest that if we want a war, we ought to pay for it ourselves. In a sense this is like "crowd-funding" wars and the idea will tend to limit wars rather than expand them. War taxes will come into use after Wallenstein's death, but for now, he's just a baby, waiting for his turn at life. [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
After World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles called for war reparations from Germany as the loser of the war (and the cause of it's damage though both sides had a hand in that). Germany was unable to repay the countries and resentment built up as the world economy collapsed. This resentment and brow-beating set up the conditions for the rise of Hitler and World War 2. After World War 2, the Marshall Plan sought to rebuild Europe without destroying Germany in the process. Last I heard, Europe is rebuilt so I don't understand why we are still in Europe, but the idea of the winners and losers paying for the war is a Wallenstein idea. But whoever had the idea, we pay for war one way or the other. [9]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1583, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. Historical Timeline of Vienna (PDF). Expat Center Vienna. Retrieved on 2014. “(TIMELINE) 1583 - The only witch burning in Vienna.”
  2. 1583: Elisabeth Plainacher, Vienna's only witchcraft execution. ExecutedToday.com (2015). Retrieved on 26 May 2015. “Elsa's daughter Margaret died in childbirth, and Elsa took all four of the surviving children into her own care while Margaret's widower went his own way. Three of these children would die in her care; the fourth became an epileptic in her teens, finally leading Margaret's (Catholic) former husband to accuse his mother-in-law of bewitching everybody.”
  3. Von Werner Sabitzer (2015). Kriminalgeschichte - Tod auf dem Scheiterhaufen. veko-online.de. Retrieved on 26 May 2015. “Vor 500 Jahren wurde in Niederösterreich Elisabeth Plainacher geboren. Sie war die einzige Frau, die in Wien wegen 'Hexerei' zum Tod verurteilt und verbrannt wurde. (Google Translate: 500 years ago was born in Lower Austria Elisabeth Plain Acher. She was the only woman who was sentenced in Vienna for 'witchcraft' to death and burned.)”
  4. Andrew McCall. The Medieval Underworld. H. Hamilton. ISBN 9780241100189. “In 1260, an Ordonnance of St Louis forbad trial by combat in all the royal courts of France; and, although the practice seems to have been allowed in certain cases in Brittany until 1339, and in Normandy until 1583, it would appear that Charles VI's total ban of 1409 was on the whole successful in abolishing it — except under special licence from the King or the Parlement at Paris — in the courts even of the French barons, who had hitherto refused to be deprived of the financial advantages that accrued to them whenever trial by battle was prescribed by themselves or their representatives in their own courts.” 
  5. Trial by combat - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 27 May 2015. “The last trial by combat under the authority of an English monarch is thought to have taken place during the reign of Elizabeth I in the inner courtyard of Dublin Castle in Ireland on 7 September 1583. The dispute was between members of the O'Connor clan (i.e., sept) in King's county (modern County Offaly), who were persuaded by two judges (referred to in the account below) to bring the matter before the Irish privy council for resolution.”
  6. "Court refuses trial by combat", The Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 16 December 2002. Retrieved on 27 May 2015. “Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a 'reasonable' way to settle the matter.” 
  7. A Collection of Abraham Lincoln Quotes (Including Sources). rogerjnorton.com (2015). Retrieved on 27 May 2015. “'...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side.'”
  8. Albrecht von Wallenstein - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 2 February 2015. “An imperial generalissimo by land, and Admiral of the Baltic Sea from 21 April 1628, who had made himself ruler of the lands of the Duchy of Friedland in northern Bohemia, Wallenstein found himself released from service on 13 August 1630 after Ferdinand grew wary of his ambition.”
  9. Treaty of Versailles - World War I. HISTORY.com (2015). Retrieved on 27 May 2015. “Germany agreed to pay reparations under the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, but those plans were cancelled in 1932, and Hitler's rise to power and subsequent actions rendered moot the remaining terms of the treaty.”

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